I'm really torn with how to rate this book.
The bookcover says The Madonnas of Echo Park A Novel, but in this case I think the A Novel add-on is subjective. It's really a collection of short stories at most, and in my opinion it's probably not even quite that. Each chapter is written from a different character's POV, but each chapter is not a full story, short or otherwise. Each character may or may not have some connection to another chapter's character, however slight it may be. I realize this is starting to sound like I despised the book but that's not completely true. Some of the chapters were interesting. In fact, some of the chapters were good enough for me to rate 3.5 or 4 stars if the book would have ended up having a story in it. Apparently some people think the story was written in a similar style as the movie Crash, and I can see how they could think that, because each character usually related to someone else in the book in some way, but from what I remember of Crash all the seemingly unrelated characters ended up coming together to play a part in an actual story with a climax (symbolic and literal crash) and with a point to the story. I didn't feel that way with The Madonnas of Echo Park. I felt like it didn't really matter that one character dated another character's former best friend because there was no real revelation or meaning behind connecting them. Generally it didn't even improve either story either. And the same goes for most of the other characters' connections.
What was apparent was that the author wanted to show the evolution of a location: the Echo Park (and Chavez Ravine) neighborhood of LA, and how that evolution effected the Mexican immigrants who lived there. It is literally just about the Mexican immigrants, though. At certain points he acknowledges that not only Mexicans inhabit this area, but all his characters are Mexican. The author did a decent job at showing this evolution through his different characters' voices. Not only that, but once I realized that every new chapter meant a new POV I thought he did a decent job at creating a distinct and realistic voice for some of the characters too, be them younger, older, male, or female.
The book starts off with a long author's note that made me think of something interesting. He talks about how he did something bad to one of his classmates and he wanted to apologize to her but he was never able to because she didn't return to school after their holiday break. It was what he felt about what he did that struck me as interesting. He apparently felt a cultural and socioeconomic divide with his other classmates. He got MTV before everyone else and therefore was exposed to English and American pop music when most of his other classmates were still listening to Spanish music or old music. When his class decided to have a dance he didn't want to look too uppity so he brought a single of something, I don't remember what, but one of the girls, Aurora, brought Madonna's full album. She was the first to put her's on and she put on Borderline, which was apparently a huge deal in LA at the time because of the video or something having a chola vibe to it. Well, I guess what happened was, he was expected to dance with her by the teacher or something, but he didn't think that was a good idea. The music was starting and they were in place but instead of dancing with her he said, "I can't dance with you because you're Mexican." She was apparently speechless or something and why not, because some kid, who is also Mexican, btw, just told her she wasn't good enough to dance with not because he didn't like her but because of something she could do nothing about, her ethnicity. Too bad she didn't think to say, And what the hell do you think you are??? But honestly, I kinda related to his story.
I lived in Signal Hill in Long Beach (about as close to LA is it gets as far as I know) for a few years growing up from about the age of 7 to 9 or so. And the school I went to was dominantly black and white with a few token latinos and asians. My brother and I being two of about four or five of noticably latino decent (we're half and halfers.) Anyway, what I'm getting at is that for some reason at this point in my life I didn't realize I was any different from whoever I was with at any given time. If I was talking to one of my black friends I thought I was the same as her, if I was with one of my white friends I thought I was just like her. I truly didn't realize we were different. And at some point during third grade I realized I didn't look like my mom. So I asked her, "Why don't I look like you?" She asked me what I meant and I said, "Why is my skin darker than yours?" And do you know what she told me? She said, because you're tanned. (!) Because I was outside all the time. (!) And so I said, "Well I'm gonna stay inside then because I wanna look like you!" (I was so sincere too!) We kept talking about it some more, but I find this so funny and outrageous now! But the point is, I didn't realize I was Latina either. Unlike the author, though, I was never told that I was better than any other ethnic group, thank goodness. The funny thing is, my mom was right! My skin really was that color because I was tanned! Now my skin is really not much different than my mom's except it has an olive tone to her peachy one, but if you put our hands side by side the color shade is very, very close. All my other features are very ethnic though :).